The effects of the macroalga Gracilaria gracilis and increasing temperatures on the performance of the endemic Cape eelgrass Zostera capensis

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Rising temperature caused by global warming alters physiology, phenology and/or distribution in a wide array of plant and animal species, which has dramatic knock-on effects at different levels of organisation. This study investigates the individual and interactive effects of temperature (18ᵒC, 22ᵒC and 30ᵒC) and additions of the macroalga Gracilaria gracilis (high and low) on the performance of the seagrass Zostera capensis, which occurs in Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa over a seven-week period. Results from the laboratory experiment revealed that G. gracilis did not significantly affect the performance of Z. capensis although temperature did result in greater leaf width, fouling and senescent biomass, as well as marginally greater leaf area and lower below-ground biomass at 30ᵒC. Increasing temperature also increased G. gracilis biomass, percent cover and fouling by microalgae. In addition, there was no interaction between temperature and the additions of Gracilaria. The overall findings of this study indicate that Z. capensis abundance is likely to decrease while G. gracilis will conversely increase in abundance in response to warming. Changes in abundance of those two ecosystem engineers highlight the possibility of a phase shift from a seagrass- to macroalgal-dominated state in Langebaan Lagoon.